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Thursday, August 4, 2016

FORGET MARS FOR NOW...WHAT ABOUT A MOON VILLAGE INSTEAD?

In 1969 I visited the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and saw on the pad Apollo 11, which took Neil Armstrong to the Moon.  I was then at Louisiana State University studying towards a PhD in biochemical engineering.

The mid-70's found me at the NASA Ames Research Center on the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.  In 1979 I begun a three year stint working for U.S. Senator Spark Matsunaga in DC.  In the office was Harvey Meyerson, who ghost-wrote The Mars Project:  Journeys Beyond the Cold War, authored by Senator Matsunaga (hey, politicians don't have time to actually write a book).  Harv for the Senator proposed working with the Soviet Union on a mission to Mars.  We shared the same suite in the Senate so had ample discussions.

In those Cold War days, we were a pushed button away from a nuclear winter, so a suggestion for these two mortal enemies to work together on a visionary effort was extraordinary.  The timing for what Harv/Sparky advanced would have been exquisite, for 1992 was to be International Space Year, the 500th anniversary of Columbus discovering American and the 75th year since the Russian Revolution.  And a U.S.-USSR landing on Mars?  Wow!

Well, nothing progressive happened except that the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.  Our (the USA) ploy to bankrupt the Russians, using space and concepts such as Reagan's Brilliant Pebbles (a concept I was familiar with, for my PhD was building a laser, and I worked with scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory who thought up this scheme...and that's about all it was) incredibly worked.  The USSR was so overcome with wanting to compete with the USA, that they fell apart.  Space was the key to this strategy.

When the Cold War ended, space became inconsequential.  However, NASA had to find reasons to survive, and people like Elon Musk, who were driven by a romance for outer space in their youth, never grew up.  There is absolutely no real reason for spending mega-bucks to do anything like going to Mars today.  Someday, maybe.  Not now.

The Apollo Project cost $120 billion ($20 billion then) and this was money well-spent.  The country has invested nearly $500 billion over the past 57 years on human spaceflight, and those days are now over.


A white elephant example is the International Space Station, a misplaced endeavor that will shortly splash into the ocean...at a cost of $160 billion, mostly from the USA.  I lament where the world would be today if we instead spent that sum on the Blue Revolution.

It is clear that I think there are so many more higher spending priorities for Humanity on Earth that all we really should do in outer space should not involve much expensive hardware.  Certainly, forget Mars for another century, at least.  If we must do something up out there, at least do it in partnership with the world, and a closer place like the Moon.

What would be justified?  European Space Agency chief Jan Woerner:

ESA's space programmes cost the equivalent of 10 litres of petrol per EU citizen per year, satellite navigation about one beer per person, and human space flight about one metro ticket per person per year, he insisted.

Woerner earlier this year announced plans for a Moon Village by 2030.  The suggestion was that a lunar base would be a sensible platform for the next Mission to Mars.  On the Moon is water to provide hydrogen, and there is the intriguing prospect of vast quantities of Helium 3 for fusion, a resource of interest to China.  Some have platinum interests.

Then just today, it was announced that Moon Express received Federal Aviation Administration approval to send a robotic lander to the Moon.  This feat would  win the Google Lunar X Prize, which awards $20 million to the first private organization to reach the moon.  Mind you, the company has yet to build the lander, and the rocket to accomplish this task has not even been flown once.

All this talk made me go back to the Meyerson/Matsunaga Mars Project.  The Europeans can't afford anything like an expensive project on the Moon.  I can, however, visualize an international partnership to build a Moon Village, where the U.S., European Union, Russia, China, Japan, India and other nations cooperate to share information and long-term benefits of such an effort.  The implications for peace would be priceless.

In searching for info, I found another book Harvey published:  Launchpad for the 21st Century:  Yearbook of the International Space Year.  He has also written other books you can find in Amazon.com.

What would all this cost?  Still searching for details, but I did note that Golden Spike, a space tourism company, will be offering a round-trip lunar adventure for $750 million.  Nope, not a typo. 

Space Adventures and Excalibur Almaz (Russian) are planning for lunar fly-bys (no Moon walk) for a bargain, $150 million.  That is the price for one person.  You would be excused for thinking all this is hilarious, and I do, but they're serious.

If these simple trips can cost that much, how can SpaceX (Elon Musk) charge "only" half a million dollars for sending you to Mars?  He plans to do this in around a decade.  Not sure if there are any options to return.  How can such credible organizations be so disparate in cost?

Now you can better appreciate why I can't take outer space adventures too seriously, for the costs are outlandish (or ridiculously low) and justification, vacuous.  Now, if our hackers find out that China is suddenly spending billions to build a fusion weapon on the Moon, well, that should at least be good for a movie script.

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Tropical Storm Earl, once in the Gulf of Mexico, will soon dissipate in Central America...Ivette will gain hurricane strength, but weaken before approaching Hawaii...and Omais will become a typhoon, but lose strength before making landfall over the Philippines or Taiwan:


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